Zebra Fish

by Capt. Ross Early

Zebra Fish

It’s no newsflash that it has been a little on the slow side offshore when it comes to mahi fishing throughout the Florida Keys and the eastern seaboard.  That however, does not keep us tied to the dock. It just makes us think outside the box when coming up with our game plan and which species we will be targeting.  The #1 drive for going trolling offshore in the Gulf Stream waters is that you never know what is swimming below, looking up at your troll baits.  And...any day could be “the day” that the fish of a lifetime eats the bait or lure and the fight ensues; the day you make that fantasy come true of catching your dream fish--be it a huge marlin, a 60 lb. bull dolphin, a huge wahoo, or whatever offshore treasure you’re hoping to land.

My good buddy, Captain Shannon Attales of Warbird Charters out of Islamorada, landed an 85 lb. wahoo high-speed trolling a color change in 250’ of water, just off Alligator Reef Lighthouse.

Wahoo can be targeted a number of different ways.  You can live bait them, chunk them, troll at regular speed, or high-speed troll.  Wahoo tend to swim a little below the surface, so when trolling or high-speeding, we use an in-line lead, a planer, or a downrigger to get our baits lower in the water column.  Preferably, a high-speed setup would consist of a bent-butt rod (to withstand the pressure of trolling fast) with a 50w or bigger reel, snap swiveled to a torpedo lead (with at least 1’ of wire or cable on each end of lead--wahoo have been known to whack the lead causing you to lose the whole rig and the fish).  The lead should be snapped to at least 50’ of 100 lb. mono, which acts as a shock cord, as it stretches when fish strike at high speed.  Add a snap swivel at the end of the mono, snapped to your favorite lure-behind wire or cable, of course.  Wahoo like red/black and purple/black lures.  You can stagger two of these outfits on the flat lines, so as not to tangle on turns, going anywhere from 9 to 18 knots.  High-speed trolling is good for covering distance, or when fishing from point A to point B.  Slow trolling (6 to 9 knots) can be equally as effective.  You definitely want to use 8 wire or bigger.  Malin strand cable and a typical ballyhoo rig (black/red, purple, red), or naked ballyhoo trolled anywhere from 20’– 80’ down should put you in the meat.

Wahoo can be caught by drifting back chunks of bonita or by free-lining squid — similar to yellow tailing over a wreck. Live bait trolling or kite fishing is also a great way to target wahoo along the outside edge of the reef.  Cigar minnows, ballyhoo, blue runner, or goggle-eyes are all great offerings for a wahoo.  Remember to lighten up that drag, as wahoo are known for their drag-screaming initial runs when they are first hooked up.  This occurrence is where they get their name, “Wa-HOO!”

If you’re holding heavy with pilchards, cigars, or ballyhoos, it’s a good idea to throw over a few “freebies” when you’re fighting a wahoo.  Because they swim in packs, the best time to hook a fish is always when you have another one on.  This strategy may persuade some of the other fish into bumping you up to a double or triple header of wahoo.  There’s some serious adrenaline flowing down there when there are 3, 30 plus lb. wahoo peeling out drag on light tackle.  Hold on!

When trolling and finding a large piece of offshore debris, another tactic for catching “debris-hoo” is to place a leaded feather-style lure on wire a good ways back and stop the boat, letting the lure sink out by the debris.  After sinking a ways, throttle up, and often, if there’s a wahoo lurking, it’s hard for them to resist a lure coming up fast from the deep.  I have caught several (usually smaller ones) off a single piece of debris.

One other super cool way we target them is to sight fish for wahoo.  When we ride in the tower on slick, calm days, usually in the deep waters and on colder months, I’ve come upon packs of wahoo.  While this is usually a spectator thing (meaning I have only caught them this way a few times since it’s tough to get them to eat a hooked bait), if you can turn them on by offering a few freebie baits, your chances increase of getting a bite out of one or multiple fish.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing packs of over 20 wahoo and of seeing multiple packs of wahoo riding down the reef’s edge.  What a beautiful sight it is to see a big wahoo light up--it is like you plugged them into a socket and the purple zebra light turns on!  It’s a sight that stays engraved in a fisherman’s memory forever.          

Go get ‘em!




Capt. Ross Early
Capt. Ross Early

Author

Fishing in Islamorada has given me the opportunity to fish among some of the best offshore fisherman and mates in the world. Allow me to share some of my knowledge of the local waters and a few tricks on catching fish aboard my charterboat, EarlyBird. 305-942-3618 fishearlybird.com



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